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Artistic freedom never crosses our borders - The Economic Times

Kumaran Suresh ()
17 February 1997

Title : Artistic freedom never crosses our borders
Author : Kumaran Suresh
Publication : The Economic Times
Date : February 17, 1997

Sir: Mr. Narcor Balachandran's letter (ET 5 February) raises
certain pertinent points which need to be addressed squarely.

To start with, Goddess Saraswathi has never been portrayed nude m
any of the Hindu sculptures or paintings, even ancient ones. She is
always referred to as wearing a white sari with a swan in
attendance. While on the subject of nude sculptures, one would
grievously err to dissociate them from the social ethos then
prevalent, a sea change, a Victorian era, has passed since then,
leaving us more Victorian than Victorians themselves.

The ancient Greeks, while trying women for crimes, as described by
the eminent British art historian Herbert Read, made them disrobe
and concluded sometimes that such a beautiful body could not
harbour a criminal mind. To insist that such a practice could be
resorted to in the western would obviously be void of any sense.

It will be worth recalling that even a maverick exhibitionist,
compulsive attention-seeker like Salvador Dali did not paint Jesus
or any of the apostles disrespectfully, but in an evocative manner.
What is the ruling religious ethos here today ?

>From the hundreds of instances known and recorded, let me cite a
few illustrative ones. Years before the advent of the age of
fatwas, a story published in Malayalam got translated into English
and appeared a decade later in the Deccan Herald. There was in the
story an innocuous line about the Prophet. Before they could know
what had hit them, the paper was laid siege to, razed and very Soon
everyone was apologising to everyone - in the media, on the radio,
through graffito pasted all over the town - entreating
forgiveness and permission to resume publication in this land of
Rule of Law.

We did not, of course, hear of any fascism, nazism, thuggery, goon
squad or any of the buzzwords being mouthed by any of the
intellectuals then. The intelligentia, with its tail secure between
the legs, was instead trying to assuage the "wounded feelings". So
much for the point that Hussain's painting was done years back and
not now. What about the other relatively well-educated minority

Let us leave aside Ken Russel's film on Mother Mary or for that
matter BBC Channel 4's documentary on Mother Theresa. Even a
musical like Jesus Christ Superstar, screened at Vatican, gets
banned here. A play like the Last Temptation of Jesus Christ gets
proscribed here even while it wins accolades all across the
Christian countries. Its film version never sees the light of the
day here.

Martin Scorsese is not artist enough for our stout defenders of
artistic liberty. Anglican clergy have initiated a major debate on
the immaculate conception and the American intelligentsia has
printed the Bible colouring each episode differently, each colour
signifying what in their opinion could have been possible, probably
true, imaginary, fictional etc.

We will not see such an open debate even a century from now. So
much for the acceptance of artistic output that could hardly be
called bla sphemous but it is the Hindus who earn the epithet
'intolerants' for nude presentation of their Goddess of learning.
For some inexplicable reasons, here the much-vaunted artistic
freedom never crosses the borders of Hinduism and when the
community in the wrong happens to be other than Hindu, the
otherwise voluble tongues suddenly turn silent.

In the absence of availability and exercise of freedom to depict a
Mother Mary or an Ayesha in the nude, to picture a Hindu Goddess in
the nude smacks of morbid cowardice.

Mr. Balachandran is welcome to have his exalted aesthetic tastes
expressed in maternal and uxorious terms and to regale his fellow
connoisseurs with his enlightenment, but for God's sake, let him
and his ilk leave the Hindus and their Goddesses alone. The Hindus
can do with out their edifying efforts.

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